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Media coverage leads to more vocation inquiries for small denomination

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In the wake of media coverage of Fr. James Radloff's recent highly public departure from the Roman Catholic Church to seek incardination into the Evangelical Catholic Church as an active priest, the little known denomination had received 80 inquiries from former and current Catholic priests about reaffiliation as of May 6.

According to ECC spokesman William Morton, ECC Bishop James Wilkowski also “has in hand 19 inquiries from Roman Catholic women who have earned their Masters of Divinity Degrees and are considering their options with us.”

Formed in 1997, the ECC allows single or married male and female deacons, priests and bishops; grants "marital dissolution"; encourages divorced or remarried Catholics to return to "the full sacramental life of Catholicism"; recognizes same-sex marriages; and accepts birth control.

“The church has received 78 inquiries from priests from the U.S. and two from Australia who are currently in the same state of ecclesial limbo as Fathers Radloff and (David) Verhasselt had previously found themselves in” who want to discuss “continuing their vocations with the Evangelical Catholic Church,” Morton wrote in a May 8 e-mail.

Nine of the men left active priesthood to marry “and would now like to return to sacramental ministry,” Morton said.

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Verhasselt was a priest of the Milwaukee Archdiocese. He moved to the ECC in 2012 after a prolonged ordeal with the archdiocese over an alleged unintentional violation of the seal of confession, which he denies. Radloff consulted with Verhasselt prior to announcing his own change of churches.

Radloff's departure followed a year-long stand-off between the cleric and Baker, Ore., diocese Bishop Liam Cary. Events included Cary's canonical removal of Radloff as pastor of St. Francis of Assisi Parish in Bend, Ore., on Oct. 1, 2013, leading to uproar in the parish; Radloff's appeal of that decision later that month to the Vatican; the Jan. 31 denial of the appeal by the Congregation for Clergy; Radloff's announcement April 22 that he was leaving the Roman Catholic Church for the ECC; an April 25 open letter on the diocesan website by Cary encouraging Radloff to return to the Catholic church; and Radloff recently filing a demand order to have contests of his diocesan personnel file turned over to him.

The latest is a 1,300-word open letter posted on Radloff’s Facebook page May 8 in which Radloff thanks supporters, expresses dedication to priestly ministry, and answers three questions that are among “questions that deserve clarification”: why he decided to move to the ECC, why he rejected Cary's appeal to return, and why launching a new church in Bend should not be considered “vindictive.”

Ordained 20 years, Radloff lived most of the past year in Chicago with his mother without permission to exercise priestly functions, although the diocese maintained that he was a priest in good standing. At the time of removing Radloff as pastor, Cary praised the priest's work at the parish and said Radloff had done nothing illegal.

However, Cary has been steadfast in refusal to reveal the reasons for the ouster. Radloff and his canon lawyer, Fr. Thomas Faucher of Boise, Idaho, were required to sign a confidentiality agreement to be allowed to see the allegations.

Part of Radloff's appeal to the Vatican was to be permitted to make the reasons public.

In a May 8 email, Radloff said the Baker Diocese's attorney has refused to release the personnel documents. “If he does not turn them over I will not be safe in sharing the accusations ... out of concern that Bishop Cary will take legal action against me.”

“What I can say, however, is that the allegations have nothing to do with abuse or illegal conduct. On this point even Bishop Cary agrees,” Radloff wrote. 

Wilkowski heads the ECC's Diocese of the Northwest which encompasses Washington, Oregon, Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, North and South Dakota, Nebraska, Minnesota, Missouri, Iowa, Wisconsin, Illinois, Indiana, Michigan and Alaska. The diocese is one of four in the U.S. There is also the diocese of Ireland “that encompasses the Western Province of Europe,” states the ECC website.

The ECC worldwide membership stands at about 1,500 members, Morton said.

Although not under the jurisdiction of Rome, the ECC "is a consecrated Catholic Church with verifiable apostolic succession that most especially shares with the faithful valid sacraments," Radloff wrote in an April 22 letter officially announcing his move.

[Dan Morris-Young is an NCR West Coast correspondent. His email address is dmyoung@ncronline.org.]

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